Holocaust survivor Liza Alpert died peacefully at her University Heights home on Aug. 2. She was 95.
Born Liska Blecher in Oshmiana, Poland (now Belarus), in 1924, Liza enjoyed a happy childhood until 1941 when German forces killed her father, oldest brother and most of the town’s men. Two other brothers attempted to escape to Russia, but only one made it alive. Liza and her mother remained in the Oshmiana ghetto until spring, when Liza was taken to the slave-labor camp, Miligamy, where she was forced to build a highway. Her mother later joined her at Miligamy after the ghetto was liquidated. Here, Liza met her future husband, Leon Alpert.
Liza suffered greatly, but persevered. The indignities she faced included laboring at Shtuthoff concentration camp, working on an S.S. officer’s farm, digging ditches and being forced on a winter Death March. Survivors of the march were packed into a barn and fed just two potatoes daily. The Red Army eventually liberated the women, but many died there, including Liza’s mother, who succumbed 10 days before she would have been liberated, and Liza’s cousin, who died a day after liberation.
Upon liberation, a typhus-stricken Liza was taken to a Russian field hospital. After regaining her health, she was forced to nurse Russian soldiers, mostly amputees. Unlike her wartime experiences, she was free to roam the city after work. She met young Jews who had established a kibbutz and were planning to make Aliyah. They encouraged her to run away from the hospital to join them.
To escape the field hospital, Liza feigned illness, but her skeptical supervisor insisted on taking her temperature. Fortunately, the supervisor was called out of the room and Liza tapped the side of the thermometer to make the mercury rise. When the supervisor returned and discovered Liza’s “fever,” she ordered Liza to bed. This offered her the opportunity to flee.
One of the women at the kibbutz traveled to Lodz, Poland, where she met Leon’s sister, Bella Mary, who was pleased to learn Liza was alive. Bella Mary wrote Liza a letter stating she, Leon and two other brothers had survived the war and urged Liza to travel with her to Munich where she was to meet the men. Meanwhile, Leon was unaware Liza had survived, but had held out hope by sending a photo of himself to Munich. The photo included a note indicating he was looking for Liza as well as his contact information.
Getting to Munich was difficult. Liza and Bella Mary lacked passports and were jailed overnight after attempting to cross the border from Austria to Germany. They were released the next day, eventually made their way to Munich and reunited with Leon and his brothers.
Liza and Leon married in 1945 at Farenwald, a displaced person’s camp in Munich. In 1949, they immigrated to Cleveland with their daughter, Eva. Another daughter, Rita, was born a few years later.
Liza worked at a drugstore soda fountain and a kosher bakery. Her many friends in the survivor community were always welcome at her home, where she offered an array of homemade foods and baked goods, and Leon entertained guests on his mandolin, violin and accordion. She enjoyed playing cards and completing elaborate needlepoints, which she framed and hung on her walls.
Liza was predeceased by her husband Leon, brother Meyer Blecher, and two other brothers who perished in the Holocaust. She is survived by daughters, Eva (Michael) Polien of Solon and Rita (Jerry) Riggle of Ormond Beach, Fla.; grandchildren, Nina (Jeffrey) Light, Brandon (Rena) Polien, Mark Riggle and Holly (Marco) Sapone; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Private services were held at Zion Memorial Park on Aug. 4.
Contributions are suggested to Kol Israel Foundation, 3681 S. Green Road, No. 306, Beachwood, OH 44122.